Einstein’s Ph.D. Thesis

Einstein submitted his PhD thesis in 1905, the “miracle year” (Annus Mirabilis) in which he also published four papers on various matters:

        • Photoelectric effect
        • Brownian motion
        • Special relativity
        • Mass–energy equivalence

It was for his discovery of the photoelectric effect that Einstein was awarded the 1921 Nobel prize in physics, and not for his more famous work on special relativity or for the work which has the world’s most popularly celebrated equation E=mc2.

Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879 in Ulm, in the Kingdom of Württemberg in the German Empire. His citizenship is interesting. First he was a subject of the Kingdom of Württemberg during the German Empire (1879–1896). After that he was stateless (1896–1901), then a Swiss citizen (1901–1955), Austrian subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1911–1912), Subject of the Kingdom of Prussia during the German Empire (1914–1918), German citizen of the Free State of Prussia (Weimar Republic, 1918–1933). He became a naturalized American citizen in 1940. He died on April 18, 1955 in Princeton, NJ (which is about an hour’s drive north of where I am now.)

Thus many countries could claim him — the US, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Einstein himself, though, recognized that he could be rejected by many as well. He wrote, “If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare me a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German, and Germany will declare that I am a Jew.”

Today I came across this video which was uploaded yesterday about Einstein’s PhD thesis.

The principle examiner of the thesis, Mr. Prof. Dr. A. Kleiner [1] In his comments, Dr Kleiner notes (translated from German): “The arguments and calculations to be carried out are among the more difficult ones in hydrodynamics, and only a person possessing perspicacity and training in the handling of mathematical and physical problems could dare to tackle them, and it seems to me that Mr. Einstein has proved that he is capable of working successfully on scientific problems. I would therefore recommend that the dissertation be accepted.”

Prof Kleiner’s assessment proved to be correct. Einstein was indeed “capable of working successfully on scientific problems.”😊

Not just admiration amounting to reverence, I have a peculiar affection for Albert Einstein. I feel a certain cosmic connection and kinship with him that’s impossible to explain. Among things that are in common — the overwhelming love of music, philosophy, physics; the absolute abhorrence of violence and war, of mindless conformity. But there are differences as well.

Great physicist and humanitarian though he was, his instincts on economics and politics were naive and simplistic. He thought that socialism would cure the world’s economic problems, and I believe he was in favor of some sort of world government. Both those are horrible ideas. About that I wrote:

Einstein was clever. But when it comes to understanding how that great big enterprise we call society operates in terms of production, distribution, exchange and consumption, Einstein was evidently clueless. His basic instincts of compassion, generosity, and altruism combined with his ignorance of economics, political economy, and economic history led him to fundamentally flawed conclusions about capitalism and socialism. It appears that he perhaps read a bit of Marx — just enough to get the wrong ideas. The kind of ideas that instinctively appeal to bleeding-heart teenagers, but which with some maturity, are discarded with a “I can’t believe that I actually believed in that pile of horse manure. Was I stupid or what?”

That’s from “Einstein, the Physics Giant and the Economic Dwarf.”


[1] In German, the convention is to use all of the person’s title when formally addressing the person. So the ordinary person is just Mr Einstein, or Herr Einstein. If he has a PhD, he then is “Herr Dr. Einstein.” If on top of that he’s a professor, then it is “Herr Prof Dr Einstein.” I wish this was conventional in English — then people would have to call me “Mister Doctor Dey.” 😐

Author: Atanu Dey


3 thoughts on “Einstein’s Ph.D. Thesis”

  1. Minor correction, but it does change the meaning:

    “among the more difficult ones in hydrodynamics”

    which is in the scan instead of:

    “among the most difficult ones in hydrodynamics”


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